University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Author Archive

OEP is Seeking Summer Interns!

In The View from the OEP on April 27, 2022 at 11:45 am

The Office for Education Policy (OEP) at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, is seeking two interested, enthusiastic interns to work on special projects this summer.
Projects include developing policy briefs and/or Arkansas Education Reports (AERs) on relevant education policy topics, as well as participating in educational program evaluation.
OEP specializes in education research and policy to support lawmakers and educators in thoughtful decision-making for PreK-20 education in Arkansas.

Required Qualifications
• Strong writing skills
• Interest in education policy issues
Preferred Qualifications
• Prior research experience
• Experience working with large datasets and statistical software programs
• Interest in pursuing a degree in education policy, preferably the Ph.D. program offered through the Department of Education Reform

Location: Fayetteville, AR (possibility of remote work for qualified applicants)
Compensation: $3,500
Timeframe: Six weeks with a flexible timeline between June 1 and August 31
Housing: We do not provide housing; however, we can assist in finding temporary housing for the summer in Fayetteville, Arkansas.


How to apply: To be considered for this opportunity, please submit a letter of interest and resume by May 11, 2022 to Sarah McKenzie at oep@uark.edu.

2022 “Best” High Schools-

In The View from the OEP on April 27, 2022 at 11:30 am
US Badge

Yesterday, U.S. News & World Report released their annual “Best High Schools” rankings.  These rankings always make the news but here at the OEP, we want to make sure that you understand what the “best” title is based on. U.S. News changed their methodology, so we want to share what we like (and don’t) about the methodology, and examine what we think is a missing indicator of high school success- whether or not students are enrolling in college after graduation.

First, congratulations to those Arkansas high schools that made the list for 2022! Below are the US News Top 10 for Arkansas (for context, we noted the 2020-21 percentage of students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch provided in MySchoolInfo, which is used as an indicator of student poverty rates):

  1. Haas Hall Academy (6% FRL)
  2. Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy High (5% FRL)
  3. Bentonville High School (15% FRL)
  4. LISA Academy North High School (51% FRL)
  5. Rogers New Tech (61% FRL)
  6. Greenbrier High (34% FRL)
  7. Fayetteville High (33% FRL)
  8. Bentonville West High School (22% FRL)
  9. Bismarck High (47% FRL)
  10. Maumelle Charter High (21% FRL)

What makes these schools the “Best”?

U.S. News uses a methodology that changed in 2019 which includes six indicators to rank the nation’s high schools.  The indicators are combined to give each high school’s overall score between zero and 100 that represents what percentile position a school is in out of the 17,843 ranked schools across the nation. Listed below, along with how much weight each is given in the overall score calculation, the indicators represent advanced course taking/exam passing, performance on state assessments, and graduation rate.

  • Indicator 1: College Readiness (30% of overall score)  The proportion of a school’s 12th graders that took and passed Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate exams in 2019-20.
  • Indicator 2: State Assessment Proficiency (20% of overall score)  A simple measure of schools’ student performance on state assessments. This measure is a weighted measure of performance, where schools are awarded 1 to 4 points per student depending on their performance on the ACT Aspire math, English Language
  • Indicator 3: State Assessment Performance (20% of overall score)  A measure of how students in a school perform on state assessments compared to how U.S. News predicted a school would score given the demographic characteristics of its students.
  • Indicator 4:  College Curriculum Breadth (10% of overall score) A measure of how many 12th grade students passed multiple AP/IB exams. Earning a qualifying score is weighted three times more than taking.
  • Indicator 5:  Underserved Student Performance (10% of overall score) An evaluation of the difference between how underserved students (black, Hispanic, and low-income) scored on state assessments compared with the average for non-underserved students.
  • Indicator 6:  Graduation Rate (10% of overall score) The proportion of students who entered ninth grade in the 2016-2017 academic year who graduated four years later in 2020.

College Readiness, College Curriculum Breadth, and Graduation Rate are standardized nationally, while state assessment results were standardized within the state. The standardized scores were weighted, summed, and transformed into a percentile.


thumbs up

3 things we like about the U.S. News rankings:

1. Performance on state exams factors in the racial/economic background of the students served by the school.

Schools serving a lower percentage of students who are historically underserved (defined as Black/African-American students, Hispanic/Latin students, and students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch) typically have higher test scores than schools serving a higher percentage of students from these groups, but the U.S. News ranking takes that into account.

2. Performance of historically underserved populations is considered.

Students who are historically underserved generally score lower on state assessments than white, Asian, and/or economically advantaged students.  Schools where the equity gap between historically underserved and non-underserved groups is smaller than the state average get higher scores.

3. AP passing rates are considered as well as AP participation.

Under Arkansas’ ESSA plan, the number of students taking an AP class is rewarded, but there is no consideration to how well students perform on the AP tests.  This is particularly important because, unlike students in most other states, Arkansas students do not have to pay to take AP tests, so we can consider the passing rates a more reliable measure of how well the AP content is being taught.

thumbs down3 things we don’t like about the rankings:

1. The data are OLD

The data used by U.S. News for the 2022 rankings are from the 2018-19 school year – nearly two years old and before the pandemic.  We hope that stakeholders will keep that in mind as they search for their school on the “Best” list.

2. Focus is just on College

Only ‘college ready’ indicators are considered.  We would like to see U.S. News including more indices of career readiness, because not everyone wants to go to college and the ‘best’ high schools should meet the learning goals of all of their students.

3. Focus is on Proficiency, not Growth

Here at OEP, we are strong proponents of student-level growth models.  We understand that it is impossible to compare this type of student growth across states because each state uses a different assessment, but we feel it is important to point out that even though they consider the demographics of the students served by the school, Arkansas’ growth model provides better information about how well students are GROWING academically from year to year.


grad cap

Does College-Ready Mean College Going?

With the focus that these rankings place on college-readiness, here at the OEP we felt like a big piece of the success of these schools was not included in the ranking.  We wondered,  “Are students from these ‘Best’ high schools actually going to college?”.

ADE releases the College Going rates for schools through the annual state report card, so we looked up the 2020-21 rates for the top 10 U.S. News schools. As presented in Table 1, between 25% and 76% of graduates from these high schools went on to enroll in college.

Table 1. College Going Rates for top 10 U.S. News High Schools, all students and economically disadvantaged students, 2020-21

SchoolCollege-Going Rate – All Students College-Going Rate – FRL Students
Haas Hall54Not Applicable
NWA Classical4333
Bentonville4023
LISA North5252
Rogers New Tech3630
Greenbrier5733
Fayetteville5230
Bentonville West4030
Bismarck3930
Maumelle4427

Does this seem weird? Only 54% of students from Haas Hall, the “best” high school in Arkansas, went on to college?  Well, the thing about the college going rates reported by ADE is that it only includes students going to college IN ARKANSAS.  Each year, about 5-6% of Arkansas graduates attend schools out of state.  Unfortunately, we don’t have national data including Arkansas students who attend college out of state.

We also want to point out that there are some high schools with much higher college-going rates: Emerson High had the highest rate with 81% of students going on to college, while Oden and Bearden followed with 71% and 70%, respectively. These schools don’t make the top 10 list, however, in part because they are so small that the scores for College Readiness and College Breadth were not calculated because fewer than 10 students were administered at least one AP assessment.

The schools identified as the “Best” in Arkansas in 2022 demonstrate high student achievement and lots of opportunities for college- level work. Students in those advanced classes are successful to the AP/ IB exams, and underrepresented populations seem to be performing better than expected. But the methodology used by U.S. News doesn’t tell us if students are going to college after high school, which is, in our opinion, and overlooked measure of a “Best” high school. Other indicators, such as industry certifications earned, completion of a coherent Career and Technical Education sequence, and employment after high school graduation are also indicators of a high school that is doing a great job to prepare students for their future.

OEP is working to gather information on these other indicators of how well our high schools are preparing students for success after high school. Stay tuned!

Building transitions lead to lower value-added growth for middle-school students

In The View from the OEP on April 6, 2022 at 1:18 pm

Today’s blog is written by Kathryn Barnes, a Graduate Researcher in OEP and former middle school teacher.

Picture this: It’s back to school open house and your student is making a big move from a small elementary school to the middle school. What questions do you think your student will ask the teacher?  in my experience as a former middle school teacher, no student or parent asks questions about curriculum or standardized tests.  Their questions revolve around things like schedules, locker combinations, class sizes, sports, transportation, and school lunches.  Open houses shed light on the idea that when school transitions take place, learning might not be the sole focus of students.

School transitions can present students with an overwhelming number of changes.  It almost seems expected that a transition to a new school building might have an impact on learning.  Educators who work with students during transition grades are cautioned to watch for changes in students learning.  Several studies have been done that show that transition years can negatively impact student achievement, however, no studies examine the effects of a transition years on student growth.  Our study seeks to answer the following question: Do students demonstrate lower academic growth after a transition to a new school building?

Growth vs. Proficiency 

To educators, the debate of growth versus proficiency is just as famous as the rivalry between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr (only educators are still waiting on a catchy musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda).  The simplest way to describe the difference between the two sounds like a quote from Jerry Garcia:  Proficiency is about the destination while growth is about the journey.

Proficiency: Proficiency is about a reaching level of achievement at a certain point in time. More specifically, proficiency is achievement that is considered “good enough” for that point in time.  Think about end of year standardized tests.  A student is proficient if they are at grade level.

Growth: Growth focuses on learning over time.  There is a greater emphasis placed on how much students learn over the course of the year, rather than what they can demonstrate at the end of the year.  A student who has high growth, but low achievement might not be at grade level but increased their math skills from a 2nd grade level to a 4th grade level in once school year. 

Here at OEP, we love using student growth as a metric for success.  Check out some of our other blog posts on this topic here and here.  

Our Study

In Arkansas, individual school districts make the decision about what grade levels require a transition to a new school building.  The table below shows the number of schools that make transitions at certain grades.  At 7th grade, for example, in 167 schools, students attend a different school building than they did for 6th grade.

Count of Arkansas Schools by Transition Year, 2020-21
3rd4th5th6th7th8th9th10th
Transition291972841671812033
Non-Transition456460375270157302190268
Total485479447354324320310301

To examine the difference in grade-level value added growth scores for students who transitioned to a new school compared to students who did not, we used publicly available mathematics and English language arts (ELA) grade-level value-added growth data for grades 3-10. The initial comparisons in grade-level value-added growth scores between transition years and non-transition years for the 2020-21 school year are shown in the graphs below.


After seeing these results graphically, we thought, “Hmmm. I wonder if there is a way to predict the value-added growth scores during a transition year.” Well, thanks to econometrics, there is a way to do this!  Using five years’ worth of data, we ran a regression analysis to predict school grade-level growth scores given specific student characteristics.  We conducted this analysis for the following student populations: White students, Black Students, students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch (a proxy for low socioeconomic status), and the combined student population. 

Our analysis returned results that were mostly not statistically significant, which ideally, is the result that we would want to see.  The exception were our results from 6th and 7th grade.  Most of the estimates from 6th and 7th grade over the span of 5 school years were statistically significant.  The results showed that a transition in the 6th and 7th grade is associated with a decrease in value added growth scores compared to students who do not transition.  In layman’s terms, our results tell us that based on past data, student groups who transition upwards to a new school in either the 6th or 7th grade show less growth when compared to 6th and 7th grade students who did not change buildings.  These results are similar for both math and ELA.   This can be concerning because, if you recall from the table earlier, 7th grade is the most common transition year in Arkansas. For more information, please refer to the full paper.   

Moving Forward

Our findings from this study indicate that policymakers and school district leaders should pay special attention to 6th and 7th grade students that experience a building transition. While overall trends do not indicate a substantial difference in value-added growth scores, students in the 6th and 7th grade who transition do show less growth compared to their peers who do not transition.  Based on our findings, we would recommend deploying an age appropriate and research-informed program to be implemented during schools that transition in the 6th or 7th grade that focus on academic and social-emotional health of young adolescents.  Examples of successful programs could provide activities that involve students, parents, teachers, counselors, and staff from the former to the transition school.  The goals of these programs would be to encourage collaboration among school stakeholders such as teachers, students, and families, to encourage school leaders to focus on concerns of middle level transitions, and to create a sustainable program that shows positive results over years.  Policymakers might suggest program evaluations focusing on schools with positive value-added growth scores during transitions to see if best practices can be identified and replicated throughout the state.

2021 School Report Cards for NWA and Pulaski County

In The View from the OEP on March 30, 2022 at 12:45 pm

Today we are pleased to release the 2021 Northwest Arkansas and Pulaski County Education Report Card.  These report cards provide an easy-to-understand overview of how students in the area schools performed in the 2020-21 school year.

The report cards are in a ‘dashboard’ format that makes it easy for educators, school administrators, parents, and policymakers to see how school districts and charter schools are performing. Performance on key measures is broken down by Elementary, Middle, and High School levels and compared to regional and state scores.  For large districts, the report cards also include individual school data, where percentile ranks make the achievement and growth scores easy to interpret.

The Report Cards put district-level information about academic growth, academic achievement, and school quality into a one-page context for quick interpretation. The performance data used in the report card are from the 2020-21 school year, the most recent data available at this time.

These key metrics of school performance are reported by the ADE at the school level in ESSA reports, but we feel they are important to consider from a district level to examine how effectively the school system as a whole is educating students, particularly compared to other districts in the same geographic areas. Information on ACT scores and high school graduation rates, which are important outcomes for students at the end of the K-12 journey, are also included.  To help make the connection between district resources and student success, we also include the district’s student to teacher ratio and amount of money that each district spent per-pupil.


That’s a lot of information!  What is the most important?

We believe that the growth scores are the best indicator that districts are doing what’s really important: helping all students learn. Growth scores are less related to student characteristics than achievement scores, as districts serving fewer At Risk students don’t always have higher growth scores.  The Growth Score indicates how much the district’s students in grades 3-10 improved over time on state assessments in English language arts and mathematics. This score also includes how well non-native speakers are progressing toward English language proficiency.

An average district, where students are growing academically just as predicted, will have a growth score of 80. In some districts, however, students are demonstrated greater increases in their academic performance from 2019 to 2021 than we would have predicted. To have a ‘good’ growth score, to be in the top 25% of schools in the state, elementary schools need a growth score of 83 or higher, middle level schools need a growth score of 82 or higher, and high schools need a growth score of 81 or higher.


How Are NWA Schools Doing?

Overall: Northwest Arkansas students demonstrated greater growth in achievement and earning higher scores on the ACT Aspire than are the students in the state overall. Schools in NWA also have higher School Quality and Student Success scores than other schools across the state.

Academic Growth: Bentonville School District had the highest overall growth score among the traditional districts, and was the only one where students demonstrated high academic growth at all levels: elementary, middle, and high school. Springdale students at the elementary and middle levels demonstrated the greatest academic growth in NWA, and 83% of Springdale schools are in the top 25% of schools in the state for academic growth. Haas Hall Academy students demonstrated the highest growth scores at the high school level. Many NWA districts had high growth at one or two levels, and we recommend they focus on identifying how they are supporting student learning at the schools where students are not demonstrating high growth overall.

Academic Achievement: Haas Hall Academy students received the highest point-in-time achievement in the NWA area, with both NWA Classical (now Founders Classical Academy) and Arkansas Arts Academy joining in outperforming traditional districts in achievement. Bentonville School District had the highest achievement score among the traditional districts, and students at the elementary and middle levels demonstrated the greatest academic achievement in NWA. Since point-in-time achievement is so reflective of student demographics, we want to point out that among NWA districts where more than half of the students are eligible for the free/ reduced lunch program, Gravette and Rogers School Districts reported the highest achievement.

School Quality: Prairie Grove School District had the highest School Quality/ Student Success Indicator Score at the Elementary Level. Gravette School District had the highest Indicator Score at the middle level and Haas Hall Academy had the highest School Quality/ Student Success Indicator Score at the high school level. Like achievement, many aspects of the school quality score are reflective of student demographics, so among NWA districts where more than half of the students are eligible for the free/ reduced lunch program, Hope Academy received the highest school quality score.


How Are Schools in Pulaski County Doing?

Overall: Pulaski County students are demonstrating lower growth in achievement than are the students in the state overall. Students in Pulaski County schools also demonstrated lower academic achievement, School Quality and Student Success scores, and graduation rates than students in the state overall.

Academic Growth: LISA Academy students demonstrated the greatest academic growth overall, with students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels all receiving above average growth scores. Jacksonville and North Little Rock School Districts had the highest overall growth score among the traditional districts, reflecting above average growth at the high school level. Students at Friendship Aspire had the highest growth at the middle level and students at Academics Plus demonstrated the highest growth at the elementary level.

Academic Achievement: Academics Plus also had the highest point-in-time achievement of the Pulaski County area schools. Pulaski County Special School District had the highest achievement score among the traditional districts, overall and across all school levels. Since point-in-time achievement is highly correlated with student demographics, we want to point out that among districts where more than half of the students are eligible for the free/reduced lunch program, LISA Academy reported the highest achievement.

School Quality: Academics Plus also received the highest School Quality/ Student Success Indicator Score overall. Pulaski County Special School District was the highest scoring traditional public school district in School Quality.


What’s the Takeaway?

In both the NWA and Pulaski County region, there are educational settings where students are demonstrating high growth by making larger academic gains than predicted based on their past performance. We want to point out that high academic growth can be found at all different types of schools from Willowbrook Elementary in Bentonville that serve few “at risk” students, to George Elementary in Rogers where 88% of students participate in the free/reduced lunch program and 60% are non-native English speakers. Students demonstrate high academic growth in schools like Haas Hall, which also has high academic achievement, and also districts like Decatur where academic achievement is relatively low.

Here at the OEP, we think growth scores are a meaningful reflection of increased student learning, and that high growth scores can be achieved by any type of school.

  • To have a ‘good’ growth score, to be in the top 25% of schools in the state, Elementary schools need a growth score of 83 or higher, Middle level schools need a growth score of 82 or higher, and High Schools need a growth score of 81 or higher.
  • If your school or district received a growth score of 80, students are demonstrating average growth in their academic performance on the state assessments in English language arts and mathematics.
  • If your school or district received a growth score below 78, students in your school or district are less likely to demonstrate academic growth than in the majority of schools in the state, and you should look for the reason.   Remember that unlike achievement, student characteristics like poverty are not highly related to growth.

If you want to know more about your school’s performance, check out myschoolinfo and type in your school name.  Under the “Reports” tab you can find the “ESSA report” for your school.

We hope that these report cards stimulate meaningful discussion about the educational settings within the communities, and look forward to hearing your thoughts. We invite you to share these report cards with those who are curious about the state of education in Northwest Arkansas or Pulaski County.

For more information about current education issues, check out OEP’s Policy Briefs and Blog.  If you are interested in digging into data, head on over to our website, where you can dive into all of the publicly available data on demographicstest scores, and finances.  The more we can be informed, share the good news, and look for ways to improve, the better Arkansas education will be.

If you would like a printed copy of a report card, please send us an email at oep@uark.edu and let us know which one and where you want it sent!

African American students experience low academic growth

In The View from the OEP on February 2, 2022 at 12:01 pm

Here at OEP, we love Arkansas’ growth scores as we think they are the best measure of how well schools are educating their students. Recently, we have been digging into publicly available school-level growth scores for student racial and programmatic populations. You can read the full policy brief for the details, but we’ll summarize our most important result here. We were surprised to find that African American students, on average, persistently experience lower rates of academic growth in ELA and math than other student populations.

The finding that African American students are, on average, consistently experiencing low growth relative to other students in the state with similar prior test scores is surprising. We would not expect this finding, as, unlike proficiency or achievement rates, growth scores are not strongly correlated with school characteristics such as the percentage of economically disadvantaged students enrolled. We found that growth scores are also not related to class size, or school expenditures.

We limit our racial analysis to Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic students, as these are the groups with the largest enrollment in Arkansas public schools. About 60% of the student population is Caucasian, 20% of students are African-American, and 18% of students are Hispanic. In Figures 1 and 2, we present the average school-level growth scores in English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics by racial group for the 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2020-21 school years. Growth scores are not available for the 2019-20 school year due to COVID-related school closures.

Figure 1. Average school-level ELA growth score by race, 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2020-21.
Figure 2. Average school-level ELA growth score by race, 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2020-21.

Hispanic students received the highest average school-level growth scores in ELA and math in each of the three years examined, indicating that Hispanic students in Arkansas schools are consistently making above-average growth in measures knowledge and skills from one year to the next. Caucasian students have a score just slightly above the annual average of 80, indicated by the red line. African-American students consistently receive the lowest growth scores in ELA and math compared to Caucasian and Hispanic students. In 2021, African-American students’ growth scores in ELA (77.8) and math (76.8) are statistically significantly lower than Caucasian and Hispanic students’ growth scores.

Further examination by grade level revealed that in all grades in the years examined, African American growth is lower than the annual state average of 80, indicated by the red line. Average school-level ELA and math growth scores for African American students is shown by grade in Figures 3 and 4, respectively. You will notice that in both content areas, growth scores are particularly low in the elementary grades. In addition, in 2021 African American elementary students demonstrated large declines compared to prior grade-level growth. In ELA, 3rd grade growth declined 2 points, while 5th and 6th grade growth declined about 1.5 points. In math, 3rd grade growth was down nearly 5 points and around 2 points in 4th and 5th grades.

Figure 3. Average school-level ELA growth score for African American students, by grade, 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2020-21.

Figure 4. Average school-level math growth score for African American students, by grade, 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2020-21.

The meager growth rates for African American students are particularly disconcerting, as African American students in Arkansas are less likely than other student groups to meet grade level standards on state assessments. In 2021, only 16.6% of African American students met or exceeded grade level standards in English Language Arts, and only 13.9% met or exceeded grade level standards in mathematics. African American students need to be growing at the fastest rate if they are going to reach grade level targets and have the skills needed to meet their post-secondary goals.

The trend we have identified don’t illuminate why African American students demonstrate lower growth in ELA and math, or why African American students in early elementary grades demonstrated such large declines in average growth in math through COVID, but the data do indicate that the growth of our African American students is an area of significant concern.

There are schools across the state, however, where African American students are demonstrating high levels of academic growth. We identified twelve schools that were consistently in the top 10% of the state for African American students’ growth. These schools ranged from 3% to 59% African American enrollment and from 24% to 70% economically disadvantaged enrollment.

School leaders and concerned stakeholders should examine the school-level growth rates of African American students and consider changes that could increase African American students’ growth and achievement in ELA and math.

You can check out our new data viz that shows school-level growth and achievement scores for student racial and programmatic groups like FRL and English Leaner students in 2017. We hope that you find it interesting and informative, and welcome your feedback about this important topic!

Freshman Grades Pack a Punch!

In The View from the OEP on December 15, 2021 at 11:47 am

As students are wrapping up the semester and teachers are assigning grades, we thought it would be a good time to share our new research about how freshman grades are related to student outcomes. You can read more in the full report or the shorter policy brief, but we will give you an overview here.

A lot of chatter has developed around high school GPAs being more indicative of future educational outcomes when compared to ACT or SAT scores. The thought is that GPAs measure more than just the cognitive skills it takes to show a high-test score—they reflect effort over an entire semester and the willingness to persevere. The University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research found high school GPAs to be five times stronger at predicting college graduation when compared to ACT scores. Further research found a student’s freshman year to be a pivotal academic point in their careers—freshman GPAs matter to predict a student’s future academic success.

Here at OEP, we conducted a similar study for Arkansas students from 2009-2019. We found freshman GPAs of Arkansas students are very influential even after controlling for student demographic characteristics:

  • A one-point gain in freshman GPA is associated with a six-percentage point increase in the likelihood of graduating high school and
  • A one-point gain in freshman GPA is associated with a 26-percentage point increase in the likelihood of college enrollment.

The thing about freshman GPAs is that they are malleable, and all subsequent high school GPA measures are built upon these first two semesters. Also it is important to understand that grades are subjective!  Individual teachers have wide latitude in the assignment that they give, how much they weight them, and calculating a final grade for a class. We find that freshman GPAs have increased by a half a point overall over the seven years examined, with more substantial increases for some student groups.

Average Freshman GPA by Class and Student Group

As freshman GPAs have increased, so have high school graduation rates with nearly 90% of Arkansas students graduating in four years. In our analytic sample (restricted to first-time freshmen that were still enrolled in twelfth grade) over 96% of the students graduated on time.  Interestingly, although Black students have the lowest freshman GPA, students eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch are the least likely to graduate from high school.

High School Graduation Rates by Class and Student Group

Although nearly 90% of Arkansas students graduate high school, less than half of those that do go on to enroll in college the following year.  In our restricted analytic sample of only those students who graduated high school, only 55% of students enroll in college the following fall. There is substantial variation by student group.

College-Going Rates for High School Graduates, by Class and Student Group

You can read our full paper or policy brief for more details, but these findings should not be ignored by Arkansas administration. Not only do freshman GPAs matter for college enrollment and high school graduation, but being an FRL student in Arkansas is associated with the lowest educational outcomes. Students eligible for Free/ Reduced Lunch have higher freshman GPAs than Black students, but are consistently at the bottom of high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates. To isolate the relationships between student characteristics, freshman GPA, and college-going, we conducted a multivariate regression and present the key findings below.

Multivariate Estimates for College-Going, Class of 2019

Our most important finding reflects how much freshman GPA matters when predicting college enrollment. Raising freshman GPA by one point is associated with a 26 percent increased likelihood of enrolling in college. When we hold freshman GPA constant, we find that Black students have an 11 percentage point greater likelihood of enrolling in college compared to white students. Conversely, FRL eligible students are consistently 15 percentage points less likely to enroll in college as non-FRL students with the same GPA.

So, what can Arkansas leaders do now that we know a student’s freshman year is pivotal in future academic success? The first step is increasing awareness about a student’s freshman year GPA. Informing school districts, teachers, parents and students about the importance of freshman GPA could help lead to better academic outcomes for all students.

Interventions should also be implemented in the state of Arkansas. One research-backed policy is the “no-zero” policy (Grading for Equity, Feldman, 2018). Under this policy, the lowest grade that a student can be assigned is a 50 as the typical 0-100 grading scale is not mathematically fair or an accurate reflection of a student’s learning. Arkansas could also develop and implement a research-driven state-wide early warning indicator system (Consortium on Chicago School Research) that monitors students’ attendance and grades. As the early warning indicator system is implemented, teacher PLC times can be focused on how to reach and help the students who have high absences or lower grades.

To support the long term success of FRL-eligible students, Arkansas teachers and administrators should focus on forming mentor relationships. These students have the highest risk of feeling that they don’t belong, but can develop their potential through a connection with an influential figure at school.

Lastly, college awareness opportunities should be implemented earlier in a student’s high school career. Freshman year is the perfect time for schools to host college and career information sessions for parents, students, and community members to familiarize them with future opportunities for their students. We urge Arkansas leaders and teachers to take action to help freshman students excel while noting the importance and weight of the freshman GPA. Simple measures like enacting a no-zero grading policy and building connections with lower scoring and high-absentee students could help more Arkansas students graduate from high school and enroll in college.

“Beating the Odds” even through COVID

In The View from the OEP on December 1, 2021 at 11:40 am

Today we share our final OEP awards for 2021, and discuss how (and why) our awards are different from the rewards given by the state.

We are so excited to release our “Beating the Odds” Outstanding Educational Performance Awards  for 2021!  These special OEP awards are for schools whose students are demonstrating high academic growth despite serving a population where at least 66% of the students participate in the Free/ Reduced Lunch Program, which is based on low household income.  Schools serving such student populations often struggle to obtain high academic achievement, but schools with high growth scores are helping students reach grade level goals.

Academic growth is less correlated with school poverty rates than achievement and we think it is a better reflection of how the school is impacting students. Growth is calculated at the student level, and essentially reflects how much a student has improved his or her score from the prior year compared to what was predicted based on prior achievement history. In the case of 2021 awards, student growth is calculated from the 2019 assessments. Especially this year, with the widespread decline in student achievement scores, growth helps us identify schools where students were learning more than expected, even through COVID. While poverty can negatively impact student success, the schools awarded today demonstrate that their students are “Beating the Odds”  The highlights are below, and you can read the full report here.

The OEP Awards highlight schools in Arkansas based on student growth on the ACT Aspire exams in Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA). We choose to give OEP Awards based on student growth because we think it is the best indicator of how the school is impacting students’ learning.

Although school-level growth scores are much less related to the percentage of students at a school who are participating in Free/Reduced Lunch than achievement scores, a negative correlation does exist (-0.39).  This means that students at schools serving higher poverty populations are more likely than their peers at more affluent schools to demonstrate less academic growth than predicted. As can be seen in the scatter plot below, schools with higher FRL rates are more likely to receive lower growth scores.

Figure 1. Combined Content Growth Score by School % FRL, Arkansas Public Schools, 2021

If we limit the plot to only those schools with at least 66% of students participating in FRL, as presented in Figure 2, the relationship between poverty and growth decreases. Although all of these schools are serving high poverty populations, there is wide variation in the amount of academic growth that students at the schools are demonstrating.

Figure 2. Combined Content Growth Score by School % FRL, High-Poverty Arkansas Public Schools, 2021

We celebrate the state using this student-level growth model, and are pleased to be able to highlight how students are growing academically in schools across the state.  We hope that drawing attention to this growth information will spark discussions among stakeholders about the ways to ensure that all schools are growing the knowledge of Arkansas’ students.


“Beating the Odds” Elementary Level Schools

The top “Beating the Odds” elementary school overall is Weiner Elementary from Harrisburg School District.  Despite serving a student population that is 67% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, Weiner Elementary students demonstrated the greatest growth in the state on the ACT Aspire out of all schools. Many of these top 10 Beating the Odds schools were also among the high growth elementary schools in the state, regardless of student demographics. The top 10 elementary schools that are beating the odds are:

  1. Weiner Elementary, Harrisburg SD (67% FRL)++
  2. George Elementary, Springdale SD (88% FRL)++
  3. John Tyson Elementary, Springdale SD (76% FRL)+++
  4. Monitor Elementary, Springdale SD (83% FRL)++
  5. Green Forest Elementary, Green Forest SD (87% FRL)++++
  6. Wickes Elementary, Cossatot River SD (81% FRL)
  7. King Elementary, Van Buren SD (77% FRL)
  8. Linda Childers Knapp Elementary, Springdale SD (90% FRL)
  9. Salem Elementary, Salem SD (69% FRL)+++
  10. Harp Elementary, Springdale SD (77% FRL)

+ indicates how many years a school was included in the top 10 BTO list since 2017

You can find the top BTO elementary schools by subject and region in the full report.


“Beating the Odds” Middle Level Schools

Helen Tyson Middle from Springdale School District is the top middle school beating the odds overall. Helen Tyson Middle serves a 6th-7th grade student population where 81% of students are eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, and 35% are English Learners. Helen Tyson Middle was eighth among the high growth middle schools in the state, regardless of student demographics.  The top 10 middle schools that are beating the odds are:

  1. Helen Tyson Middle, Springdale SD (81% FRL)+++
  2. Swifton Middle, Jackson Co. SD (71% FRL)++
  3. Cave City Middle, Cave City SD (78% FRL)
  4. Jessieville Middle, Jessieville SD (71% FRL)
  5. Decatur Middle, Decatur SD (81% FRL)
  6. Butterfield Trail Middle, Van Buren SD (68% FRL)++
  7. Nemo Vista Middle, Nemo Vista SD (71% FRL)
  8. Clarksville Middle, Clarksville SD (76% FRL)
  9. Atkins Middle, Atkins SD (68% FRL)++
  10. Star City Middle, Star City SD (72% FRL)

+ indicates how many years a school was included in the top 10 BTO list since 2017

You can find the top BTO middle schools by subject and region in the full report.


“Beating the Odds” High Schools

The top high school beating the odds is Arkansas Consolidated High- Harrisburg run by the Division of Youth Services School System. Despite serving a student population that is 100% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, and working to educate students in the juvenile justice system, it is also OEP’s top high growth high school in the state.  Arkansas Consolidated High School students are demonstrating that they can achieve at levels similar to students who come from higher income communities and traditional school settings. The top 10 high schools that are beating the odds are:

  1. Arkansas Consolidated High- Harrisburg, DYS (100% FRL)
  2. Danville High, Danville SD (77% FRL)+++
  3. Kingston High, Jasper SD (67% FRL)
  4. Arkansas Consolidated High- Dermott, DYS (100% FRL)
  5. Horatio High, Horatio SD (77% FRL)
  6. Jasper High, Jasper SD (67% FRL)++
  7. Decatur High, Decatur SD (71% FRL)++
  8. Oark High, Jasper SD (89% FRL)
  9. Highland High, Highland SD (71% FRL)
  10. KIPP Blytheville Collegiate High, KIPP Delta Public Schools (86% FRL)

+ indicates how many years a school was included in the top 10 BTO list since 2017

You can find the top BTO high schools by subject and region in the full report.

Congratulations to all the OEP “Beating the Odds” award winners!  Keep up the great work and we look forward to recognizing you again next year!


How are OEP awards different from the state rewards that were announced in November?

1) Part of the state rewards go to high-achieving schools, where a lot of students scored well on the state tests. These schools tend to serve a lower population of students facing academic risk factors poverty or second language acquisition.

  • OEP only awards schools for growth, because we think that it is a better reflection of how the school is impacting students.

2) The part of the state rewards that are awarded for growth use a different measure than the OEP awards.  The rewards program uses the growth value that also includes the progress being made in English language proficiency, a value called the combined value-added growth score. The difference between the values is inconsistent, with the content growth value higher for some schools and the combined value-added value higher for other schools.

  • OEP awards are based on improvement in the content areas of Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) assessments only. 

3) The state rewards program for growth includes graduation rate for high schools.

  • OEP awards do not include graduation rate, and are based on improvement in the content areas of Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) assessments only. We agree that graduation is important, but we don’t want to conflate student academic growth with obtaining high school credits.

4) The state rewards program rewards the top 10% of schools overall.

  • OEP awards are grouped by ESSA school level (Elementary, Middle, and High). We know that achievement and growth vary by school level and are concerned that middle schools demonstrating relatively high growth are not being rewarded by the state. In fact, in 2021, no middle schools were recognized in the top 5% growth/grad awards by the state.  See a further discussion here.

The differences between the state rewards program and OEP awards are due to the fact that the state rewards are legislatively mandated, while here at OEP, we created an awards system that supports our passion for highlighting schools where students demonstrate Outstanding Educational Progress!  Oh, and we don’t send money- just paper certificates!

OEP Awards for High Schools: 2021

In The View from the OEP on November 17, 2021 at 11:00 am

This week, OEP is pleased to recognize High Schools demonstrating Outstanding Educational Performance. OEP awards are different than other awards because we focus solely on student academic growth. Unlike other indicators of school performance, academic growth is not very correlated with school demographics. This means it is reflective of what students are learning in school, not what challenges they may face due to out if school factors. Here at OEP, we choose to highlight student academic growth because we believe that it is the best reflection of the impact that a school is having on students’ academic success. 

Today’s OEP awards for High Growth High schools are based on the growth of students in schools categorized as High Schools on the ACT Aspire Math and English Language Arts assessments.

Highest Overall Growth: High School Level

The top high school for overall student growth is Arkansas Consolidated High in Harrisburg from the Division Of Youth Services School System, with an overall growth score of 86.65. Arkansas Consolidated High in Harrisburg also had the highest growth in ELA at 89.09. Arkansas Consolidated High in Dermott took the top spot for growth in math at 93.62.


The 20 high schools with the highest overall content growth are:

  • Arkansas Consolidated High in Harrisburg, DYS (100% FRL)
  • Haas Hall Bentonville, Haas Hall Academy (2% FRL)***
  • Marmaduke High, Marmaduke SD (44% FRL)*
  • Danville High, Danville SD (77% FRL)***
  • Kingston High, Jasper SD (67% FRL)*
  • Haas Hall Academy at the Lane, Haas Hall Academy (9% FRL)**
  • Arkansas Consolidated High in Demott, DYS (100% FRL)
  • Haas Hall Jones Center, Haas Hall Academy (12% FRL)
  • Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy High, Responsive Ed. Solutions (5% FRL)*
  • Horatio High, Horatio SD (77% FRL)
  • Jasper High, Jasper SD (67% FRL)
  • Bradley High, Emerson-Taylor-Bradley SD (44% FRL)
  • Dardanelle High, Dardanelle SD (64% FRL)
  • Greenwood Freshman Center, Greenwood SD (32% FRL)*
  • Arkansas School for the Blind HS, Arkansas School for the Blind (39% FRL)
  • Malvern High, Malvern SD (64% FRL)
  • Haas Hall Academy, Haas Hall Academy (6% FRL)***
  • Quitman High, Quitman SD (49% FRL)*
  • eStem High, eStem Public Charter School (45% FRL)*
  • Concord High, Concord SD (64% FRL)*

*Asterisks indicate schools that have been in the top 20 for overall growth in prior years.

Four of these top 20 schools have been on our list every year since 2017, and eleven have been our top 20 list at least once before, demonstrating that high growth can be achieved year after year.  We also like how five of the schools on the list are newcomers- showing that growth scores can change over time. These schools, and others included in the full report, are growing student’s academic performance more than would be expected. Way to go!

It is important to note that very few students were assessed in some of the Top 20 schools, so the growth score is reflective of the performance of just a few students. In prior years, we limited our awards to those with at least 20 students, but this year we felt that it was important to recognize the achievement of these very small schools! Especially since, as shown in Figure 1, there is essentially no correlation between the number of students assessed and growth values (R= 0.5).

Figure 1: 2021 Math Growth Score and Number of Students Assessed

Four of these top 20 schools have been on our list every year since 2017, and eleven have been our top 20 list at least once before, demonstrating that high growth can be achieved year after year.  We also like how five of the schools on the list are newcomers- showing that growth scores can change over time. These schools, and others included in the full report, are growing student’s academic performance more than would be expected. Way to go! Similar to last year’s list, a variety of schools have shown high growth when observed through the lens of the percentage of students served Free/Reduced Lunch, indicating enrollment of students from lower income families. The proportion of students eligible for FRL among these high-growth schools ranges from a low of 2% to a high of 100%, reflecting that students can demonstrate high growth in all types of schools! As shown in Figure 1, high school academic growth is not very correlated with school poverty rates (R= -0.3).

Figure 2: 2021 Growth Score and % FRL, High School Level Schools

You can find the high schools with the greatest student growth by subject and region in the full report.  You can check out the growth ranking of all middle level schools in the downloadable datafile. We give OEP awards for high growth overall as well as for Math and ELA growth individually.  We recognize the highest growth schools by school level (elementary, middle, and high) and by region of the state.

The Division of Elementary and Secondary Education recently released performance data for all public schools in the state.  We created a statewide data visualization for you to explore the relationships between school poverty, academic growth, weighted achievement, and school quality.

For OEP awards, we use the purest measure of academic growth (referred to as Combined Content Growth Score) which includes growth for Math and English Language Arts only.  We chose this growth value, that excludes English Learner Progress because on average, including the ELP progress slightly depresses the growth score for schools.

—————Stay tuned to learn about more OEP Award Winners!————–

Next week we will release the list of high growth schools serving high poverty populations, those who are “Beating the Odds!”

OEP Awards for Middle Schools: 2021

In The View from the OEP on November 10, 2021 at 6:00 am

This week, OEP is pleased to recognize Middle Level schools demonstrating Outstanding Educational Performance. OEP awards are different than other awards because we focus solely on student academic growth. Unlike other indicators of school performance, academic growth is not very correlated with school demographics. This means it is reflective of what students are learning in school, not what challenges they may face due to out if school factors. Here at OEP, we choose to highlight student academic growth because we believe that it is the best reflection of the impact that a school is having on students’ academic success. 

Today’s OEP awards for High Growth Middle schools are based on the growth of middle or junior high school students on the ACT Aspire Math and English Language Arts assessments.

Highest Overall Growth: Middle Level

The top middle school for overall student growth is Gravette Middle School from Gravette School District, with an overall growth score of 85.8. Washington Junior High from Bentonville School District took the top spot for growth in math at 89.36 and Decatur Middle School from Decatur School District had the highest growth score in ELA at 86.8.


The 20 middle/junior high schools with the highest overall content growth are:

  • Gravette Middle, Gravette SD (53% FRL)**
  • Washington Junior High, Bentonville SD (18% FRL)*
  • Vilonia Middle, Vilonia SD (30% FRL)
  • Lincoln Junior High, Bentonville SD (24% FRL)***
  • Hellstern Middle, Springdale SD (49% FRL)*
  • Bright Field Middle, Bentonville SD (7% FRL)
  • LISA Academy Springdale, LISA Academy (59% FRL)
  • Helen Tyson Middle, Springdale SD (81% FRL)**
  • Northridge Middle, Van Buren SD (43% FRL)*
  • Pinkston Middle, Mountain Home SD (43% FRL)*
  • Valley Springs Middle, Valley Springs SD (45% FRL)**
  • Huntsville Middle, Huntsville SD (52% FRL)
  • Swifton Middle, Jackson County SD (71% FRL)**
  • DeWitt Middle, DeWitt SD (56% FRL)
  • Gary E. Cobb Middle, Genoa Central SD (44% FRL)
  • J. William Fulbright Junior High, Bentonville SD (14% FRL)**
  • Beebe Junior High, Beebe SD (57% FRL)**
  • Ardis Ann Middle, Bentonville SD (22% FRL)
  • Heber Springs Middle, Heber Springs SD (50% FRL)***
  • Siloam Springs Intermediate, Siloam Springs SD (42% FRL)

*Asterisks indicate schools that have been in the top 20 for overall growth in prior years. Three of these top 20 schools have been on or list every year since 2017, and thirteen have been our top 20 list at least once before, demonstrating that high growth can be achieved year after year.  We also like how six of the schools on the list are newcomers- showing that growth scores can change over time. These schools, and others included in the full report, are growing student’s academic performance more than would be expected. Way to go! Similar to last year’s list, a variety of schools have shown high growth when observed through the lens of the percentage of students served Free/Reduced Lunch, indicating lower income families. The proportion of students eligible for FRL among these high-growth schools ranges from a low of 7% to a high of 81%, reflecting that students can demonstrate high growth in all types of schools! As shown in Figure 1, academic growth is not very correlated with school poverty rates (R=0.4).

Figure 1: 2021 Growth Score and % FRL, Middle Level Schools

You can find the middle/junior high schools with the greatest student growth by subject and region in the full report.  You can check out the growth ranking of all middle level schools in the downloadable datafile. We give OEP awards for high growth overall as well as for Math and ELA growth individually.  We recognize the highest growth schools by school level (elementary, middle, and high) and by region of the state.

The Division of Elementary and Secondary Education recently released performance data for all public schools in the state.  We created a statewide data visualization for you to explore the relationships between school poverty, academic growth, weighted achievement, and school quality.

For OEP awards, we use the purest measure of academic growth (referred to as Combined Content Growth Score) which includes growth for Math and English Language Arts only.  We chose this growth value, that excludes English Learner Progress because on average, including the ELP progress slightly depresses the growth score for schools.

—————Stay tuned to learn about more OEP Award Winners!————–

Next week we will share the winners for High Growth High Schools. Finally we will release the list of high growth schools serving high poverty populations, those who are “Beating the Odds!”

OEP Awards for Elementary Schools: 2021

In The View from the OEP on November 3, 2021 at 10:38 am

This week, OEP is pleased to recognize elementary schools demonstrating Outstanding Educational Performance. OEP awards are different than other awards because we focus solely on student academic growth. Unlike other indicators of school performance, academic growth is not very correlated with school demographics. This means it is reflective of what students are learning in school, not what challenges they may face due to out if school factors. Here at OEP, we choose to highlight student academic growth because we believe that it is the best reflection of the impact that a school is having on students’ academic success. 

Today’s OEP awards for High Growth Elementary schools are based on the growth of elementary students on the ACT Aspire Math and English Language Arts assessments.

Highest Overall Growth: Elementary Level

The top elementary school for overall student growth is Weiner Elementary from Harrisburg School District, with an overall growth score of 91.85. Weiner Elementary also took the top spot for growth in math at 95.27. George Elementary from Springdale School District had the highest growth score in ELA at 90.82.


The 20 elementary schools with the highest overall content growth are:

  • Weiner Elementary, Harrisburg SD (68% FRL)**
  • Parkview Elementary, Van Buren SD (53% FRL)
  • Pottsville Elementary, Pottsville SD (50% FRL)***
  • Hunt Elementary, Springdale SD (52% FRL)***
  • George Elementary, Springdale SD (88% FRL)
  • Genoa Central Elementary, Genoa Central SD (39% FRL)*
  • Eastside Elementary, Rogers SD (65% FRL)
  • Stagecoach Elementary, Cabot SD (38% FRL)*
  • Willowbrook Elementary, Bentonville SD (5% FRL)*
  • Vandergriff Elementary, Fayetteville SD (10% FRL)
  • John Tyson Elementary, Springdale SD (76% FRL)**
  • Monitor Elementary, Springdale SD (83% FRL)*
  • Carolyn Lewis Elementary, Conway SD (50% FRL)*
  • Elgin B Milton Primary, Ozark (63% FRL)
  • Cavanaugh Elementary, Fort Smith (65% FRL)**
  • Greenbrier Wooster Elementary, Greenbrier SD (41% FRL)***
  • East Pointe Elementary, Greenwood SD (44% FRL)
  • Green Forest Elementary, Green Forest SD (87% FRL)
  • Sequoya Elementary, Russellville SD (39% FRL)*
  • Woodrow Cummins Elementary, Conway SD (36% FRL)

*Asterisks indicate schools that have been in the top 20 for overall growth in prior years. Three of these top 20 schools have been on or list every year since 2017, and thirteen have been our top 20 list at least once before, demonstrating that high growth can be achieved year after year.  We also like how six of the schools on the list are newcomers- showing that growth scores can change over time. These schools, and others included in the full report, are growing student’s academic performance more than would be expected. Way to go!

Similarly to last year’s list, a variety of schools have shown high growth when observed through the lens of the percentage of students served Free/Reduced Lunch, indicating lower income families. The proportion of students eligible for FRL among these high-growth schools ranges from a low of 5% to a high of 88%, reflecting that students can demonstrate high growth in all types of schools! As shown in Figure 1, academic growth is not very correlated with school poverty rates (R=-0.46).

Figure 1: 2021 Growth Score and % FRL, Elementary Schools

You can find the elementary schools with the greatest student growth by subject and region in the full report.  You can check out the growth ranking of all elementary schools in the downloadable datafile. We give OEP awards for high growth overall as well as for Math and ELA growth individually.  We recognize the highest growth schools by school level (elementary, middle, and high) and by region of the state.

The Division of Elementary and Secondary Education recently released performance data for all public schools in the state.  We created a statewide data visualization for you to explore the relationships between school poverty, academic growth, weighted achievement, and school quality.

For OEP awards, we use the purest measure of academic growth (referred to as Combined Content Growth Score) which includes growth for Math and English Language Arts only.  We chose this growth value, that excludes English Learner Progress because on average, including the ELP progress slightly depresses the growth score for schools.

—————Stay tuned to learn about more OEP Award Winners!————–

Next week we will share the winners for High Growth Middle Level schools, followed by High Growth High Schools. Finally we will release the list of high growth schools serving high poverty populations, those who are “Beating the Odds!”